Saturday, 19 July 2014

A view from Siena

*Written in Siena, although posted on first day in Rome*

When I was planning my grand and glorious tour of Italy, there were certain places I knew I had to see. Ferrara and Venice were high on my list, but a central pin was Siena. Also in the planning was the ever central question of how long to stay in each place. It turns out that five days in Siena, when you are on your own, don't drive and it's too hot to contemplate a stuffy bus trip anywhere, is just a bit too long.

Right - that's my little moan over. At the time of writing this (Friday 18th July) I have stumbled across a little café, quite uninspiring from the front, but with a large garden with a view of he surrounding hills, and I have regained my equilibrium, happy in the knowledge that I could probably stay here for hours. [And I did ... the café does an excellent cold pasta and there is a beautiful smell of warm plums, which drop from the trees all around].

Siena is utterly captivating as a town, built as it is on a hillside, and therefore practically everything seems to be at a slight slant. The centre is a mass of windy streets that all lead to the Campo or the Duomo, whilst the city outside the old walls spreads out before tapering off into fields with the odd, grand looking, villa in the distance.

The Duomo is the centre piece of the town - a massive construction of black and white marble, with the outer façade so intricately designed that it could double as a wedding cake. On Tuesday I spent most of the day wandering around it, accompanied by an Oxford friend who happened to be holidaying a little ay away with the rest of her family. It is easy enough to spend hours inside the Duomo. The inside is highly decorated, with some hugely impressive marble pavements, depicting various Sybil, scenes from Siena's history and geometric designs. Siena was hugely important in the late middle ages through to the mid 1550s. Self governing for quite some time, until the area got mixed up in the wars of the 1540s and 50s and ended up under the governance of Florence and the Medici.

Perhaps this is why the Duomo is so spectacular, but the building also suffered from the times, and an extension to it was never completed, due to quite a large part of the population being wiped out by the plague in the 1400s (sorry - bit vague on dates, all this is from memory). They left the intended extension standing though, and it makes an unusual addition - and one you can walk up to the top of - yet more steps!!!

Not as many steps as in the tower of the Campo however - I climbed them on a very hot morning and thought they might never finish. Up and up and up, with no breaks and just when you think you've reached the top because you're face to face with a massive bell, you find there's three more levels. But the view! Suddenly you're high above the muddled twisty streets and can see for miles. If they let people up when the Palo happens, it must give the most fantastic perspective on that hectic race.

Before the surge in heat to the mid 30s of the last couple of days, I did venture out to San Gimignano - again a must see on the itinerary. A bus ride of just over an hour will get you to this lovely town. Again, built on the side of a hill and populated with many towers. I seem to have been following the trail of numerous Maggie Smith and Judi Dench film during my time in Tuscany, and here was no different. I got into (I think) great trouble for taking a picture of Santa Fina in the Church (the Italian probably along the lines of 'I've told you once young lady, don't do it again or I'll have you thrown out ...!') San Gimignano feels like it's got everything - an old fort, some medieval fountains, its own saint, beautiful frescoes and the Templar were there at some point too!

Back now to the present and my last day in Siena is proceeding better than I thought it would. I can be no bad thing to have a few lazy days, for Rome will be packed with things to do. I'm even having breakfast in the Vatican, although the Pope won't be joining me - he's got better things to do). I don't think there's any Maggie Smith films to emulate in Rome - I'll just have to be Audrey Hepburn instead. It's a hard old life.

*Post typing up note* As much as I was looking forward to Rome, I am feeling slightly overwhelmed by the scope of the place, and also a little annoyed with myself that I think I got stung by the taxi driver .... protest he said - protest my foot! I attempted to go out and prove to myself that it was all fine, got a little lost, couldn't find Shelley's house (but have at least located his grave) and felt just generally annoyed at myself for being so pathetic. So, I've booked myself on a tour to Tivoli and it's grand palazzo's for Tuesday, so it's only tomorrow I've got to plan. The Protestant cemetery is near a church of the order of Malta and a few Roman ruins that might not be as packed as the Coliseum, and then I'll try to go up to the other side of the city to visit the Villa Borghese. It will still be really hot, so lots of visits to cafés will be imperative too!!! 


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